Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Foreign travel on short notice

or how to get an expedited passport for the cost of a normal one plus your sanity.

On my way home one day last week, I was ambushed my advisor who decided to send me to Germany in the middle of August. Uh... ok. Small problem #1: being as fond of traveling as I am, I have no passport and apparently, it takes 10-12 weeks or some similarly outrageous amount of time to get one in the normal way. Now, I sometimes struggle with math, but I do get that the middle of August is not 10-12 weeks from now. Explaining this to my advisor and then consulting the secretary it turns out that I can get reimbursed for the cost of an expedited passport - which only takes 3 weeks. That's still cutting it close, but it might work. Small problem #2: I had neglected to bring a copy of my birth certificate with me when I moved. So, the dear rental units sent one overnight and I was able to complete my application and take the needed documents to the post office yesterday morning. But before I left, small problem #3: Credit cards aren't an acceptable form of payment for passports and, oops, I left my checkbook at my apartment. Luckily, my new bank is conveniently located between my office and the post office so I simply went and withdrew the majority of funds available. I then went to the post office, stood in line for twenty minutes, signed some stuff, and returned to my office where I realized - small problem #4: I *did* have my checkbook (it was at the bottom of my backpack), but I now had no cash and basically no money left in the account connected to said checkbook... Then, small problems #5: it was time for lunch and I hadn't even started doing work yet.

Then the afternoon was spent figuring out which cities I need to be in on which days (taking into account that I *have* to be in Madison for various events immediately preceding and immediately following my trip) and which airports are closest to and easiest to get to from those cities and what times the trains run so I know how early or late a flight I can be on and instructing the travel agent accordingly. Gah!

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Trying to find housing given an entire (albeit, small) city of possibilities, each having its own unique drawbacks, sucks. Wandering around downtown, I saw a lovely building across the street from the Capitol. I'm sure I'd be quite comfortable there: it has balconies overlooking Capitol Square, huge windows, access to the main restaurant/shopping area of downtown, is within easy walking distance of my office, etc. But alas, it's also out of my price range. So, exactly *how* far out of my price range is it? I did some research and found that its one unoccupied unit is in the $650k ballpark and when you include that I'd want a parking space it comes out closer to $700k. That's surprisingly reasonable... I should be able to afford the down-payment if I save all my earnings for the next three or four years and don't pay any rent or taxes or buy food in the meantime. And then to make mortgage payments, I'd only need a 200% raise.

In which the protagonist...

moves to Wisconsin and learns not to be terrified by the locals.

[Note: the following was written weeks ago, but I only just got around to posting]

I've been on the ground now for a month (less two days, but whatever) and have been busily acclimating myself to life outside the NY metropolitan area. So far, I've successfully cultivated the habit of saying "Hi!" to the bus driver when I get on the bus and "Thanks!" when I get off. But I'm still working on the less hurried social exchanges - say, ordering coffee at the Starbucks down the street from my apartment:

One recent Sunday, I went to Starbucks for a NY Times and breakfast. They were out of newspapers, which annoyed me, but being hungry and caffeine-deprived, I set about deciding what to get anyway. While I was staring blankly at the pastry case trying to make up my mind the barista quizzed me about my plans for the day, juggling (I was wearing a festival t-shirt), and my research (having somehow determined that I was a grad student in physics). During this five minute chat I was too distracted and freaked out to decide what I wanted, so I ended up ordering the first thing I could think of just to be able to get my caffeine and leave. Then, as if that wasn't disconcerting enough, the following week I went back one afternoon to find the same barista... and she remembered me! WTF?